Kennel Construction; Building Material Choices

By Craig L. McAllester

What is the best building material for a kennel?

With so many new building materials being developed for increased energy efficiency, someone building a new kennel might have questions regarding the best for their project. While, conserving energy is certainly important, also important is choosing materials that will withstand the harsh environment of a kennel.

Making the wrong choice here could cost you big money in just a few years, and it may even shorten the life of the building. There is no one right answer for every project.  In this post, I’ll list some choices available, and share a few thoughts on each.

Wood Construction:

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Wood, not the best choice for around water!

For years, the most common building material has been wood frame, or ‘stick frame’ construction. Typical wood framing with a drywall finish will simply not stand-up if it becomes wet, and so, it is not the best choice for a kennel.

But stick framing is not the only wood choice.  Another wood choice that is gaining popularity in the small animal care industry is Pole Barn construction.  Used for hundreds of years to construct farm buildings, new technologies that are being used today are allowing this type of construction to be used in wet areas, and with very promising results. There are several reasons one might choose this as an option.  A biggest reason is cost-savings. A costly concrete foundation is not needed in a post and beam building, as the posts go deep into the ground to support the structure.  Many of the barns you pass along the highway every day, were built over a hundred years ago, and they are still being used today–and many are as strong as ever.  The key is to design the building so the water and the wood never meet.  I address this in our latest book.

Masonry Construction:

Perhaps, the most common material used for an animal shelter today is CMU (Concrete Masonry Unit), also known as, cinder block, cement block, masonry, and block construction among other various terms.  CMU is durable, no doubt, and will stand up to most any abuse. Once the walls are laid up, the voids in the blocks, known as cores, are grouted solid with concrete and  structural steel reinforcing bar make for a very strong building.  The thermal mass of this material along with proper insulation, will help keep utility bills low.  Because of its mass, masonry will help reduce sound transmission, a real advantage in a noisy animal shelter.  Masonry naturally resists pests, because there is nothing for bugs to eat.  Because it is a cement product, the cost of fire insurance is low too. All that said, there are a few drawbacks.  CMU is labor intensive to build.  Each block is laid-up individually by a mason, and labor costs are very high.  Masonry is a porous product, and thus, if not completely sealed, water, urine and bacteria will work their way inside of the block walls where it cannot ever be cleaned.  The porous surface makes it hard to seal, even with a roll-on or spray-on finish, and when the finish is scratched off, it must be reapplied regularly to ensure waterproofness.

Glazed Masonry:

There is a factory finish available for CMU, where each block is glazed making the surface completely waterproof. The cost of glazed masonry is high, but, if the money is available, it is a good option, giving a tile-like appearance.  The grout used should be a non-absorbent type.  This further increases the cost.

Concrete Tilt-up Construction:

Example of Tilt-Up Construction

For projects with a flat concrete floor slab, concrete tilt-up construction might be considered.  Once the foundation and floor slab are poured and cured, the building walls are formed and poured directly on top of the floor slab.  When the walls are cured, they are ’tilted-up’ into position and bolted together.  This type of construction provides a very strong and very durable building.  Casting the walls using a high-strength concrete will make them waterproof, and with proper furring, insulation and finish, a tilt-up building will last for many years. The exterior finish may be of any type, or simply painted or left unfinished.  These heavy walls help to control sound transmission, so there is less chance of neighbors hearing any noisy barking.  Though, normally used in larger commercial/industrial projects, tilt-up construction has been used on smaller kennel projects too.  As shown in the photo, the doors, windows and other openings are all blocked-out before pouring, when the walls are raised, the wall framing is finished.

Pre-Cast Concrete Construction:

Precast concrete wall systems have been around for years.  They are used primarily for basement wall construction, however some of these manufactures are using precast concrete panels for above grade as well.  There are several reasons to use this product, one being the walls can often be set in place in only one day!  Another reason is because the walls are waterproof–the high-strength concrete will not allow water to pass through.  Companies like Superior Walls® manufacture concrete panels in their factory, then deliver them to the construction site where they are lifted off the truck and onto the foundation where they are bolted together.

ICF, insulated Concrete Form Construction:

Insulated Concrete Forms, or ICF’s have been around a while now too.  I designed several buildings back in the ’90’s using ICF’s, when fuel prices started to climb.  I have never designed a kennel using ICF’s, as it is typically more costly than most other framing types discussed here.  That said, ICF, depending on the brand, would work well for a kennel because they are strong, energy efficient, make a good sound barrier and most are impervious to water.

Structural Steel Frame Construction:

Example of Structural Steel Construction

Structural steel is another good option, and the one I have used the most over the years for kennel construction.  A heavy steel frame is erected, and then the exterior skin is applied.  All too often, my clients think these need to look like metal industrial buildings, but that’s simply not the case. It is often the most cost effective option.  The outside, they can have any exterior finish available–even masonry or stucco. Inside they can have any finish there too. Columns locations need to be taken into account when designing the building, but, for new construction, that’s easily done.  The frame itself can be painted, boxed-out to conceal the frame completely, or even hot-dipped galvanized to reduce the chance of rust forming on exposed steel.  The latter adds to the cost, but inside the building, the galvanized finish looks real nice for a long time.  These buildings go up fast too, and that’s of great benefit.

Light-Gauge Steel Frame Construction:

Light-gauge or cold-formed steel, is sometimes overlooked as a structural framing choice.  It is used as an interior, nonbearing wall framing choice in commercial construction every day, and is used as an exterior choice for infilling a structural steel frame building too.  The only drawback is that it is a bit time consuming to frame a structural wall with light gauge steel.  Material is available with a galvanized finish, helping to keep it from rusting, and that is a good choice for the sill plate.

So, what is right for your project?

And, there are more, but there really is no single answer for every project.  A lot depends on your local climate, the use of the building, (i.e: shelter vs commercial boarding vs animal hospital etc.), the budget, access to your building site, new construction vs addition,  and more needs to be taken into consideration.  Most of these materials are available in any area of the country. When choosing, keep an open mind until a conceptual design is developed and preliminary pricing is complete.  Contact me to discuss all your options.  Once a decision has been made, select a contractor familiar with that particular construction type.

More Information:

National Concrete Masonry Association
Tilt-Up Concrete Association
ICF Insulated Concrete Forms Association
Light-Guage Steel Supplier
Renovation vs New Construction
Building Costs

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